Origin of the Ikwerre: The Benin Factor

The Ikwerre are generally considered by a great majority of scholars as a subgroup of the Igbo people of southeastern Nigeria. Several theories exist over their origin. One is favoured by the Igbo people and another is widely accepted by the Ikwerre people themselves. According to one of these theories of Ikwerre origin claims by some Igbo scholars suggests that they would be descendants from an Igbo migration from Awka and Orlu areas towards the south. Igbo scholars take the Ikwerre as part of the Southern Igbo. Amadi, an Ikwerre scholar, says that the Igbo origin theory has support even among the Ikwerre themselves, with Ikwerre as descendants of a migration of Arochukwu Igbo, and Okpo Nwagidi being the leader of the Ikwerre tribe. Before the civil war, there had been dissident voices that claimed that Ikwerre could have migrated from Owerri, Ohaji, Ngwa, and Etche areas of Igboland. But when Port Harcourt was conquered by Nigeria during the Biafran War and the Igbo people from other parts of Igboland fled the territory, a UN report says that the Ikwerre decided to claim that the Ikwerre were non-Igbo for convenience. The Ikwerre are recognized officially as a separate group in the 1979 Nigerian Constitution.

It was about that time that names of places and those of some individuals began to change to reflect a new era in the Ikwerre history. Examples are: Umu changed to Rumu, Mu na chi changed to Manuchi, Nwike changed to Wike, ObiAkpo changed to ObiakpO, Chidimma changed to Chiburuoma, Nwa changed to Nwo. Ezenwa changed to  Ezenwo. Nwakpa/Nwekpa changed to Wekpa etc.

The Benin theory of origin for the Ikwerre people gained populous attention among the inhabitants, especially when repudiation of Igbo ancestry gained prominence among the Igbo neighbours in the aftermath of the civil war. Unfortunately, the Benin theory has so many versions. The first version suggests that Ikwerre was the third son of Akalaka, which is still an Igbo name, the father of Ogba and Ekpeye who migrated from an area in the multi ethnic Benin empire in the 15th century. It is said that Iwhuruohna, the progenitor of the Ikwerre, had seven sons which became the Ikwerre asa. Another version holds that Akalaka migrated with Ochichi who settled at Elele and was the father of Elele, Isiokpo, Egbeda and Omerelu. This Benin theory was rejected by many Ikwerre who are of the opinion that the Ikwerre did not migrate from Benin or descend from one progenitor. The Ikwerre are far larger than the Ogba and Ekpeye groups. The Akalaka legend originally mentioned the Ogba and Ekpeye as the only descendants of Akalaka; the inclusion of Ikwerre has gained ground as of recent time. Ikwerre people do not share any linguistic or cultural grounds with Benin people. The assumption of Benin origin of Ikwerre could also be traced to the wars and raids of the Aboh kingdom on Ogba land; with the help of the Benin officers which triggered a migration of Ogba and Ekpeye people into what is today’s Ikwerre land. These people met existing communities there. Rumuekpe, Ibaa, Ndele and the Odegu clan are communities that could have possibly be founded by this migration. A section of Obio clan is said to have migrated from the Aboh (Ukwuani) area of Delta state which was under the influence of the Benin Empire in the 16th century.

Chief N.M.T. Solomon (2004), native of Ikodu Ubie in Ekpeye land, tries to present what he claimed to be the more refined version that may serve as a reliable source. He organized the narratives given by various sources, including Eketu (Weber) of Ubeta, assumed to be the then oldest man in all Ekpeye, Ogba and Iwhnur? hna (or Ikwerre), at that time. Eketu’s narrated history was taken and all other samples were dropped. Speaking from Ekpeye customs, Solomon made the following conclusion:

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